> Skip to content

Article  •  4 November 2019


Growing up in Ghana

Fiona McIntosh on her colourful childhood in Africa and how this influenced The Diamond Hunter. 

I spent my early childhood commuting between England and West Africa, where my father was working in the gold mines of Ghana. The memories aren’t plentiful but the ones I have play out like a movie and are vivid in colour, texture, emotion and even smell. All I have to do is smell a ripe pineapple for instance and I am transported back to being five years old and running wild through our mining camp.

And that’s where the similarities with The Diamond Hunter begin, I suppose. I didn’t deliberately choose for Clementine in my story to mimic my early world – not at all – but the subconscious is a curious landscape and no doubt the back of my brain deliberately took the story’s journey there. When I first arrived at the concept, I thought I was going to write about a young woman who is taken to Africa against her wishes by her adventuring husband – she loves him deeply but doesn’t share his swashbuckling spirit.

By the time The Diamond Hunter came around to be written, a year or so later, and I was settling down to craft chapter one, my direction had changed and I realised I was going to write about a child and the effect her adventuresome parents have on her young life, plus the shock of being taken back from the wilderness of South Africa, against her desire, to live the privileged life of a young socialite in late-Victorian Britain.

Of course, I drew on my freedoms of living in Africa. I was genuinely living the most carefree of childhoods, even though I suspect there were plenty of dangers, from snakes to simply being a curious five-year-old and where that might lead. I have to say it was the best childhood. Our parents trusted my brother and I to follow the few rules there were and then trusted us to instinctively look after one another, which we did. Mum schooled us on a sunny verandah and most of the day we were left to play with the few other children in the camp. I look at the children of today, including my own, who were supervised at every turn, and I wonder whether they experience the sort of magic we enjoyed of discovery, problem-solving and that sense of total freedom we had in the 1960s. 

Into my life came a young man, not long out of his teens, who worked in our household with my parents. His name was Adongo; this was his first job and I was his best friend from the moment we met. I loved Adongo and followed him around, taught him everything I learned on that sunny verandah and adored his quiet presence that was underpinned by a wicked sense of fun. The day we left Africa for the last time, which was in 1967 I reckon, was the darkest of days for me. I couldn’t believe we were leaving Adongo behind… I was seven and felt betrayed that my friend was not coming on the plane with us to England. It was a terrible sense of despair.

Again, it wasn’t contrived; the story just went there, and I realised the love story was to be about the love in an unbreakable bond of friendship between a little girl and an African man. Suddenly this was all the oxygen the story needed – I didn’t have to know anything more about the plot… it wrote itself.

It was a wonderful life. Laughter, exotic journeys into the bush, lots of African friends, brilliant music and food of the Ghanaians, colourful village life, magnificent talking parrots for pets, beautiful African Greys and a magnificent, chatty, multi-colored parrot called Billy that we brought home and gave to my cousins, and which lived until I was about 45. Amazing, eh? I’ve never returned to Ghana. I guess I have such bright, inspired memories that I don’t ever want to burst that bubble, although I often think about Adongo and how much I’d like to hug him again.

Feature Title

The Diamond Hunter
The new historical blockbuster by the bestselling author of The Pearl Thief.
Read more

More features

See all
Better Reading’s Top 100 books of 2024 announced

Penguin Random House is proud to have twenty-four titles on the list this year.

Penguin Noir is back with two events in 2024

Learn about two exciting Penguin Random House author showcases this August!

QUIZ: find your partner in crime this summer

Take this fun quiz to find out which crime novel you should read this summer.

The best book duos to gift for Christmas 2023

Perfect book pairings to give loved ones this holiday season.

The 10 bestselling fiction books of 2023

Check out our top-selling fiction books this year.

What book to gift Mum this Mother’s Day, based on her favourite flower

Find the perfect book based on the blooms she already loves.

Exclusive audiobook content that will inspire you to read more than ever before

Love audiobooks? They’re even better with extra content! Check out some of the audiobooks that include exclusive recorded content for even more enjoyment.

Authors were back on the road in 2022 - and we loved it!

Join us as we travel back in time through 2022 with the authors that hit the road this year.

This is how detective stories have withstood the test of time

Detective stories have been around for over a century, but their popularity persists. Find out who wrote the first detective story and discover a new novel for your ‘must read’ list.

A Behind-the-scenes look at Fiona McIntosh’s book tour

A look inside of Fiona McIntosh's tour for her new book, The Orphans.

Diamonds, De Beers and diggers

We sat down with Fiona McIntosh to hear all about bringing the 1870s to life in The Diamond Hunter.

Book clubs
The Diamond Hunter book club notes

Fiona McIntosh's new historical blockbuster is sure to spark an engaging book club conversation. 

Looking for more articles?

See all articles